Cicely Tyson, a powerful figure in the African-American and film community, passed away peacefully in her sleep at 96 on January 28, 2021.
Tyson is known for always playing strong Black women, which helped future Black actresses play important roles.
Tyson spoke to an interviewer about her characters and the roles she wishes to portray.
“We Black actresses have played so many prostitutes and drug addicts and housemaids, always negative,” Tyson said. “I won’t play that kind of characterless role anymore, even if I have to go back to starving.”
After acting in small roles in movies, Tyson had her big break portraying Rebecca Morgan in Sounder in 1972. The Academy Awards and Golden Globe Awards nominated Tyson for Best Actress for her performance in Sounder.
Two years later, Tyson earned critical acclaim again for her leading role in the movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Tyson won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Leading Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie and an Emmy Award for Actress of the Year.
After decades of playing numerous roles, Tyson won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play when she was 88 years old for her performance as Miss Carrie Watts in The Trip to Bountiful.
In one of her last roles, Tyson guest-starred on the ABC legal thriller, How to Get Away with Murder as Ophelia Harkness.
Days before she died, Tyson released her autobiography, Just As I Am, and held several promotional interviews.
After her manager announced her passing, the tributes from prominent African-American figures in Hollywood poured in.
“You made me feel loved and seen and valued in a world where there is still a cloak of invisibility for us dark chocolate girls,” actress Viola Davis typed on Instagram. “You gave me permission to dream.”
“Cicely decided early on that her work as an actor would be more than a job,” talk show host Oprah Winfrey typed on Instagram. “She used her career to illuminate the humanity of Black people.”